'Barman' offers humorous, true look at the birth of a lawyer

Issue December 2003 By Lisa C. Johnson, Esq.

How does one become an attorney? No, this is not the beginning of a lawyer joke. Nor am I speaking of the specific requirements needed to become a lawyer. Take the LSAT. Go to law school. Pass the Bar. Get sworn in. Now you are an attorney. I'm talking about that intangible thing that happens to you as a person during this process, when suddenly you feel that you can honestly say, "Yes, I am an attorney."

A new book called "Barman" by Alex Wellen explores that painful yet wonderful process of becoming an attorney. He did it. I did it. Probably most of you reading this review did it or are in the midst of doing it. Like a marathon for the mind, you find out what you are really made of.

About the book …

Title: "Barman: Ping-Pong, Pathos, & Passing The Bar"

Author: Alex Wellen

Description: A young man's flirtation-filled angst-ridden odyssey through the bar exam and the process of becoming an attorney.

Publisher: Harmony Books / The Crown Publishing Group

Publication Date: Oct. 1, 2003

Most mothers talk about how you forget the pain of childbirth after going through it. It makes sense for survival of the species. It kind of works the same way when studying for the bar exam. I think after it is over, especially years later, we forget the intensity of the pain we went through. Sort of. Most of us remember enough of the torture, so it is a pretty effective deterrent to leaving our current state and taking another bar exam.

Similarly, in "Barman," Wellen likens the process of becoming an attorney to pregnancy and childbirth. The comparison is quite creative and meaningful. The table of contents starts with Foreplay, which aptly enough is the legal disclaimer. Chapter one is Conception. Afterbirth is the epilogue, where we learn how it all ends.

Wellen describes how he felt after his swearing in. "A lot can happen in nine months. Now I was officially a counselor, an esquire, an attorney, a lawyer, whatever. I was licensed to practice. Born slightly premature and jaundiced, but otherwise healthy. … I realized that law school, the bar, and the practice were the perfect trifecta. Each phase complemented the next, and the process of becoming an attorney proved empowering. Life was starting to look like one big hypothetical, or at least a series of strung-together fact patterns and but-for legal analyses. Whether I was considering an invention, renting an apartment, or preparing for my own mortality, nothing looked the same anymore."

Ironically, Wellen leaves the practice of law and turns to a new career. Wellen has the making for another book with the Afterbirth, because he only spends four pages discussing how he decided to leave the practice of law and helped create, produce and host an award-winning television program called CyberCrime. Currently he is a freelance writer, independent producer and book author.

Even though Wellen is very young, essentially he has written an autobiography focusing on a very specific time in his life. There is some inconsistency here. He is very open and forthright about many aspects of his life. He is very happy to let us know that he had a lot of good sex while studying for the bar. There is also a surprising amount of vomiting. On the other hand, he changes the name of the firm where he worked to Nickel & Reed, but his bio is public and states that he worked at Pennie & Edmonds, an intellectual property firm. Maybe he specifically wasn't allowed to use the name "Pennie" and "Nickel" was as close as he could get. I don't know.

One of the nicest aspects of the book is his family. The way he describes conversations and interactions with his grandmother, parents and brother, it is readily apparent that they are quite close and have a warm family dynamic. It was heartbreaking to read about his grandmother's death. Especially since the circumstances required him to intervene in a legal capacity.

But most of the book is pretty light-hearted. It starts in Wellen's second year at Temple School of Law, a Tier 2 school. He talks about the ranking of law schools into four Tiers by U.S. News & World Report. Tier 1 schools are part of the top 50 and Tier 2 schools are part of the next 50. Throughout the book, he makes reference to people and their different tiers and how his Tier 2 status impacted his search for a big firm job.

Wellen studied industrial engineering at Rutgers College of Engineering. During his freshman year at Rutgers, we learn that Wellen invents a new type of ping-pong paddle. His desire to patent his new invention is the impetus behind his eventually becoming an intellectual property attorney.

One of the funniest parts of "Barman" is the description of the Wall of Pain. Whenever he received a letter of rejection from a firm, he would rank these letters based on his own point system. The more words the firm used before the actual rejection, the higher the ranking. He'd highlight certain words and then tape these letters to his kitchen wall - thus the Wall of Pain. It took a month and 75 letters for him to cover the entire kitchen. Then he moved to the living room and worked his way up to the 100th rejection letter.

"It turned out that the centennial rejection was not as momentous an occasion as I'd hoped it would be," Wellen writes. "The recruiter rejected me in two sentences, and then promised to keep my rÈsumÈ on file if the firm's needs changed. The notion of a Wall of Pain suddenly struck me as humiliating. 'Ahhhhhhh,' I screamed at the top op my lungs. 'God, damn, stupid wall!" I ripped the letters of the wall, along with a lot of blue paint attached to the tape holding them there. When I was finished, I rubbed my face with both hands and stared blankly at the carnage. … If I got truly desperate, perhaps, I would reapply to those firms in my third year."

A good deal of the book is spent on the day-by-day studying for the New York bar exam. He describes in painful detail his daily BAR/BRI classes, the weekend PMBR seminar. He goes through a bunch of questions and his analysis of fact patterns. The whole studying process we see up close. All the insecurity and drama. He does the same thing for each day of the actual bar exam. If you really want to go back to that place and relive the whole experience, his description takes you there. Wellen is an excellent writer, but I really didn't like going back.

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